In the wake of Gary Sheffield's 500th home run, St. Petereburg Times' writer John Romano has a different, power-hitting native son in mind:
As numbers go in baseball, it is hard to beat 500. It is large, it is round and it is historic. For as long as there have been home runs and legends, 500 was the spot where the elite all gathered. It was the dividing line between the great and the merely good.
As numbers go in baseball, it is easy to ignore 493. It is impressive but somehow feels incomplete. As if you got most of the way through a race, only to run out of gas on the final lap. There are no ovations, and no club for 493 members.
493 being the number of home runs hit by Fred McGriff, whom Romano believes to be more deserving of the Hall than Sheffield.
Is he? Romano makes some good points along these lines, particularly as it relates to the eras in which Sheffield and McGriff experienced their power hitting primes (McGriff from 1988-1994, Sheff from 1999-2005). And of course, Sheffield has some steroids associations that McGriff does not, though given the experience of recent years we probably can't say anything definitive about who took what, when, and for how long.
Based purely on numbers, Sheffield is a Hall of Famer in my eyes. Sure, there's the 500 homers, but there's also the 2,600+ hits, 1,600+ RBI, a career average near .300, and steroid-era stat inflation notwithstanding, he has a career OPS+ that places him alongside guys like Reggie Jackson, Duke Snider, Eddie Collins, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Harmon Killebrew. No, he's not as good as some of those guys -- and his defense is a liability on balance -- but he's a solid Hall of Fame candidate in my mind even if his surly reputation and steroid associations keep him from entering any time soon.
How about McGriff?
As Braves' blogger Mac Thomason concluded after a pretty thorough analysis a couple of years ago, McGriff is a guy whose stats don't pop out at you, mostly because of the relatively depressed offensive era in which he posted many of his best seasons. But despite that, he is in good company, statistically-speaking, with career numbers similar in many respects to that of Willie McCovey, Sheffield, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Eddie Mathews, and Ernie Banks. He was also always thought of as a good citizen and good teammate. Perhaps the biggest knock against him is that two of his biggest seasons were obscured by a trade (1993) and a strike (1994). Another fabulous season (1989) came when Robin Yount won the MVP by being just as good at a tougher defensive position. Not his fault, of course, but not having that one year in which everyone thought "OK, this guy is the best," will hurt him in Hall of Fame balloting.
My view: I think Sheffield and McGriff are both Hall of Famers. I find it interesting, however, that McGriff may very well be denied entrance because he had too low of a career profile, while Sheffield may be denied because he had one that was too high.